‘Gen­der bias is a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem’

How did the re­gional and in­ter­na­tional ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try re­act to Saatchi & Saatchi chair­man Kevin Roberts' strong words on gen­der di­ver­sity, asks Austyn Al­li­son

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE -

As Saatchi & Saatchi chair­man Kevin Roberts steps down, the in­dus­try re­acts to in­equal­ity in cre­ative lead­er­ship.

The ad in­dus­try around the world and in the Mid­dle East has been re­act­ing to the con­tro­ver­sial re­marks on gen­der di­ver­sity that led to the res­ig­na­tion of Saatchi & Saatchi’s ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Kevin Roberts. Roberts hit head­lines in late July when he said “the f***ing de­bate is over” in an in­ter­view with Busi­ness In­sider while talk­ing about women in lead­er­ship po­si­tions.

He said: “We have a bunch of tal­ented, cre­ative fe­males, but they reach a cer­tain point in their ca­reers ... 10 years of ex­pe­ri­ence, when we are ready to make them a cre­ative di­rec­tor of a big piece of busi­ness, and I think we fail in two out of three of those choices be­cause the ex­ec­u­tive in­volved said: ‘I don’t want to man­age a piece of busi­ness and peo­ple, I want to keep do­ing the work’.”

Af­ter the in­ter­view was pub­lished, he was placed on leave by Publi­cis Groupe, which owns Saatchi & Saatchi and an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion within a mat­ter of days.

A state­ment from Publi­cis said that Roberts will step down on Septem­ber 1, “prior to his re­tire­ment date due in May 2017”. Roberts later fol­lowed this with his own state­ment, say­ing: “‘ Fail fast, fix fast, learn fast’ is a lead­er­ship maxim I ad­vo­cate.

“When dis­cussing with Busi­ness In­sider evolv­ing ca­reer pri­or­i­ties and new ways of work/ life in­te­gra­tion, I failed ex­cep­tion­ally fast. My mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion on a num­ber of points has caused up­set and of­fence, and for this I am sorry.”

Roberts started his ca­reer in the late 1960s with Lon­don fash­ion house Mary Quant. He then be­came a se­nior mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive for Gil­lette and P&G in the Mid­dle East.

At 32, he be­came chief ex­ec­u­tive of Pepsi- Cola Mid­dle East in 1982 and five years later be­came Pepsi’s CEO in Canada. In 1989 he moved to Auck­land to be­come chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Lion Nathan.

He be­came the world­wide chief ex­ec­u­tive at Saatchi & Saatchi in 1997 and was pro­moted to ex­ec­u­tive chair­man two years ago, based in New York.

The 66-year-old is well known for his ‘Love­marks’ phi­los­o­phy at the agency, which cen­tres on an emo­tional con­nec­tion with brands. His book on the topic ex­plored why some brands are pop­u­lar over oth­ers.

Mau­rice Levy, CEO, Publi­cis Groupe

The opin­ion ex­pressed by Kevin is nei­ther shared nor sup­ported by my­self or the Groupe. It is his own, ex­pressed in his unique and provoca­tive way, and does not re­flect the Groupe opin­ion or pol­icy.

Na­dine Ghos­soub CEO, Sci­ence& Sunshine

It's un­for­tu­nate that there are so many opin­ions on gen­der di­ver­sity yet not enough ac­tion. Telling peo­ple what they want to hear and do­ing noth­ing to change the sta­tus quo doesn't make the prob­lem go away. Gen­der bias is a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem not just in our in­dus­try but more im­por­tantly in so­ci­ety.

I hon­estly don't know what [Roberts] was think­ing when he made these state­ments, es­pe­cially at a time when gen­der par­ity in our in­dus­try is a hot topic.

As a wo­man and CEO of an ad agency, am I of­fended or in­sulted? No. I find it silly. What does he know about be­ing a wo­man any­way? Does it bother me that some­one in his po­si­tion would pub­licly make a state­ment like that? Sure. It em­bar­rasses me to have peo­ple like that rep­re­sent our in­dus­try. But the buck doesn't stop with Kevin Roberts. There are un­for­tu­nately so many more that se­cretly share his views.

He might have just done us a favour though. His state­ments could have just given the in­dus­try the push it needs to start act­ing.

Tarek Mik­nas CEO, FP7/MENA

My ex­pe­ri­ence with women in lead­er­ship po­si­tions at our agency has been out­stand­ing. Within the FP7/ MENA network, we have four women run­ning our agen­cies, and they have con­tin­u­ally, over a num­ber of years, demon­strated ex­cep­tional com­mit­ment and an ex­cep­tional bal­ance be­tween IQ and EQ.

Those four of­fices are among our best per­form­ing and hap­pi­est.

I don't sub­scribe to the point of view of [Roberts], and can't imag­ine any­one that would.

Ramzi Raad Group chair­man, TBWA\ Raad Mid­dle East

I worked with Kevin Roberts for a cou­ple of years while he was an ac­tive mem­ber of Proc­ter & Gam­ble's Mid­dle East mar­ket­ing team and I was on the agency side of the fence work­ing on Ariel, Pam­pers and Fairy Liq­uid. His re­cent com­ments did not come as a sur­prise to me, as Kevin has never shied from say­ing and do­ing what he per­son­ally thinks and be­lieves. Have we all for­got­ten the day when he was the boss of Pepsi- Cola and went on stage with a ma­chine gun to blast a Coca- Cola vending ma­chine?

I strongly be­lieve that the cur­rent con­tro­versy has been much more stirred by the re­ac­tion of Publi­cis' bosses to Kevin's in­ter­view more than any­thing else. I have ar­rived at this con­clu­sion for the sim­ple rea­son that other groups – and I take my own agency group, TBWA, as an ex­am­ple – have been bold and vo­cal in their stance on gen­der di­ver­sity, while oth­ers have lagged be­hind and some have to­tally ig­nored the chal­lenge.

In March 2015, newly ap­pointed pres­i­dent and CEO of TBWA\World­wide Troy Ruth­nan launched, Pro­ject 20\20, whose goal is to in­crease women's lead­er­ship roles in all TBWA of­fices and across all de­part­ments by 2020. At TBWA\Raad\Le­banon we are proud to have achieved a 52 per cent fe­male ver­sus 48 per cent male em­ploy­ment split in our cre­ative depart­ment.

Sir Martin Sor­rell CEO, WPP

It sounded to me that the Publi­cis Groupe team coach was only echo­ing the words of his boss, ( or is it team man­ager?) at the 4As Con­fer­ence in March: i.e. that there wasn't a di­ver­sity is­sue in our in­dus­try, and that any sub­stance, for ex­am­ple, in the Gus­tavo Martinez case was an iso­lated ex­am­ple [the global chair­man of WPP's J. Wal­ter Thomp­son re­signed af­ter the agency's com­mu­ni­ca­tions chief filed a dis­crim­i­na­tion suit against him]. I tried to cor­rect that im­pres­sion at the same con­fer­ence.

The Kevin Roberts case and, in­deed, other ex­am­ples in­clud­ing the long lit­i­ga­tion in the Man­ning, Selvedge and Lee case [in Oc­to­ber 2015, the Publi­cis PR agency set­tled a class- ac­tion gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion case for al­most $3m], which was not well re­ported on, clearly prove it wasn't and that we're all suf­fer­ing from it, across the in­dus­try.

More hard work needs to be done to es­tab­lish even gen­der bal­ance and that's not the end. My ex­pe­ri­ence, for what it's worth, in­di­cates that fe­male lead­er­ship is the most ef­fec­tive cat­a­lyst.

Ed­mond Moutran, Chair­man and CEO, Memac Ogilvy & Mather Hold­ing MENA

We came to know Kevin Roberts when he was in charge of the Mid­dle East re­gion back in the early 1980s, and have known him as a deep thinker and an achiever. But we do not know what caused such a key ex­ec­u­tive fig­ure to re­mark on gen­der equal­ity in such a man­ner that ini­ti­ated a wave of world re­proach and de­nun­ci­a­tion across our in­dus­try.

Per­haps be­cause Kevin Roberts is his own char­ac­ter and speaks his own words. He said that gen­der di­ver­sity is no longer a prob­lem at his agency and that women didn't be­come ex­ec­u­tives be­cause they were hap­pier in hum­bler roles. We do not sub­scribe to that be­lief, for we have al­ways em­braced gen­der equal­ity, di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion as a con­stant prin­ci­ple of our cul­tural and cor­po­rate val­ues.

In­deed, we never cease to en­cour­age our work­force of men and women to de­velop their ca­reers, take higher roles, pur­sue their am­bi­tions, and achieve their po­ten­tial on equal foot­ing. As a re­sult, many of our great tal­ents and ex­ec­u­tives have thus right­fully earned our in­dus­try's re­spect and agency's grat­i­tude.

Elie Khoury CEO, Om­ni­com Me­dia Group MENA

The world of mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions does have a di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion prob­lem. The num­bers speak for them­selves. Over the past 10 years the amount of women in se­nior lead­er­ship roles en­ter­ing the Cannes Li­ons awards hasn't in­creased. In fact, it has fallen from 9.9 per cent to 9.8 per cent. Con­sider also only 12-14 per cent of cre­ative di­rec­tor­ship roles are held by women ( ac­cord­ing to re­cruit­ment con­sul­tancy Pro­pel). Only a few months ago, Leo Bur­nett Syd­ney re­ceived se­ri­ous back­lash from the in­dus­try over its all-whitemale cre­ative team.

In the mar­ket­ing ser­vices in­dus­try, the ques­tion of in­clu­sion and di­ver­sity has never been more cru­cial or rel­e­vant. Given the fact that women make up to 85 per cent of pur­chase de­ci­sions, the rea­son we need to have women rep­re­sented at ev­ery level of our in­dus­try is plainly ob­vi­ous. What's more, as the na­ture of mar­ket­ing trans­forms be­fore our very eyes, who we hire and pro­mote, and the kind of work we en­gage in, will be piv­otal to be­ing suc­cess­ful in the new era of mar­ket­ing, data, con­tent and tech­nol­ogy.

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